Over the last few weeks I have experienced a couple of things that are the very opposites of each other in almost every way. The first was the week of prayer and fasting, where I and many others at St Bs voluntarily deprived ourselves of food, drink, and other treats in order to seek God. The second was going to a Burns Night party. It is slightly baffling why the idea of Burns Night should have caught the public imagination, but it has.
Many of us now go to parties around this time of year to celebrate this famous Scottish poet. But this is not because we love his poetry, which most of us find virtually incomprehensible. Nor is it because we want to celebrate the life of a wonderful man, because by all accounts Rabbie Burns was a womanising philanderer and probably not a very nice guy. But as my host at the party I attended said to the gathered throng, there is something about Rabbie Burns that captures the essence of Scotland. I would reflect further: the idea of zest for life and unabashed indulgence, that Burns epitomises, catches the spirit of the age. The Bible puts it: “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die”. And this attitude undoubtedly makes for a fantastic party.
Fasting is the opposite. It is not fun. Almost everything about it makes me miserable. I even find it very difficult to pray, with my pleadings drowned out by the rumbling of my stomach. However the end results are quite different. Time and again I have found that fasting shifts something in the spiritual atmosphere, both for me personally and for the church. Where an average Burns night party leaves behind a raging headache, horrific mess and the post-party blues, fasting, so difficult at the time, reaps a harvest of joy, encouragement and a renewed sense of the presence of God.
The idea of delayed gratification is usually associated with maturity. Children find it almost impossible to resist eating the sweet immediately, but as we grow older, as the Guinness advert so poignantly expressed: we discover that good things come to those who wait. On this point, fasting wins out over Burns Night every time.
With the interminable delays on the Go and Grow project, it seems that God is intent on growing our maturity. We continue to pray that good things come to those who wait.